Education secretary Michael Gove
Education secretary Michael Gove (Reuters)

A nasty little spat has erupted between education secretary Michael Gove and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in the run-up to the Autumn Statement.

Officials in their respective departments were reportedly at loggerheads after Clegg's announcement in the Lib Dems' September conference that free school meals would be made available to all infant school children next year.

Clegg's team have insisted that the £150m investment in school kitchens to allow the project to go ahead was agreed and identified within the education department's budget.

But officials there said there is was an £80m shortfall which was not agreed.

Gove was apparently sceptical about the whole idea and was left feeling "bitter" at the way Clegg had apparently won the day after the prime minister ordered education officials to find the money.

According to the reports, they denied that the deal had been finalised - and that led to Clegg's team accusing them of lying.

One LibDem source told the BBC: "The education department [DfE] should stop whining and deliver. The DfE are going rogue. This has been agreed at the highest levels of government. It has been agreed by the chancellor."

It appears that the prime minister has ordered the department to find the cash to meet Clegg's commitment, which will be unveiled in George Osborne's statement.

Under the plans, every child in an English infant school will be eligible for a free school dinner, expected to save parents about £437 per child per year.

It was seen as part of a deal in which Clegg accepted Cameron's plans for tax breaks for married couples.

But it is believed that the policy had not been examined in detail and some of costs for refitting school kitchens had not been factored in, leading to the last-minute revision of figures.